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Inside the Working White House: 20th Century

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"Every day is wash-day at the White House,” housekeeper Elizabeth Jaffray recalled. The three maids assigned to the laundry when Jaffray first arrived in 1909 did not use electrical appliances; the immense amount of daily washing was done manually, then pressed with flat-irons. At least once a day, while the laundrywomen were at their tasks downstairs, a houseman ran a large carpet sweeper over the floor coverings throughout the house. A thorough vacuuming occurred each Saturday morning.

Every weekday morning at 8:30, Jaffray, who resided in the White House, consulted with the first lady about meals, personnel, and general management issues. At nine, the cook brought menus to Jaffray’s office for review. By ten o’clock, Jaffray was on her way to the market stalls to make bulk purchases of fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, game, and butter.

The head cook and two or three assistants prepared almost all the food, not only for the president’s table, but also for receptions, state dinners, and for the servants.

Throughout the rest of the 20th century, interviews with the White House staff, diaries, memoirs, and photographs, offer capsules of the daily schedules and responsibilities that have kept the White House running. From the daily tasks of cleaning to preparing for special events such as State Dinners, the staff plays a crucial role in keeping the Executive Mansion running.